BELMONT, Mich. – Inbee Park figures the best defense against the nerves that come with being in the lead is a hot putter.
Using a new blade putter this week, Park made two long birdie putts on the back nine Saturday and finished with a 3-under 68 to remain a stroke ahead after the third round of the Meijer LPGA Classic.
“I feel like I haven’t holed that kind of putt for a long time and it’s all of a sudden happening this week,” Park said. “This putter, it seems like it’s going really on line and I feel like I’m stroking the ball better this week.”
The third-ranked South Korean player holed a 25-footer from the fringe on the par-3 14th, bogeyed the par-4 15th after missing a 3-foot par try and rebounded with a 35-foot birdie putt on the par-4 16th.
The 26-year-old Park won six times last season and took the Manulife Financial in June in Canada for her 10th LPGA Tour title. She had a 13-under 200 total at Blythefield Country Club.
“I think it would have been nice if I had probably two- or three-(shot lead),” Park said. “That gives me more breathing room, but one is still better than nothing. I’m in better position than everybody else.”
South Korean rookie Mirim Lee was second after a 67. Norway’s Suzann Pettersen was another stroke back after a 69.
Cristie Kerr matched the low round of the tournament with a 64 to jump 44 spots to a tie for 12th at 5 under. She hit 10 of 13 fairways and had only 26 putts.
Park, using a blade putter instead of a mallet for the first time since 2008, birdied the first hole and stayed in front until Pettersen birdied Nos. 7 and 8 to tie for the lead. The tie lasted one hole before Park rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt at the ninth.
Pettersen birdied the par-4 13th with a 20-footer to tie again, only to have Park roll in the 25-footer from the fringe at 14. Pettersen then matched Park’s bogey at 15, also missing a 3-foot par try.
That’s when Lee slipped in between the two with birdies at Nos. 15 and 16.
Pettersen, who for much of last year was No. 2 in the rankings to Park’s No. 1, said she struggled with her game, gusty wind and greens that are firming up.
“Overall it was one of those days where you just fight to stay in it,” said Pettersen, ranked fourth in the world. “I didn’t have the greatest of feels throughout the round. There were a lot of challenges out there, and there will be as many tomorrow and hopefully I can do just a little better.”
Park, who shot 66 in each of the first two rounds, said it was easily the toughest day of the three.
“The wind was quite tricky to me,” she said. “I played pretty consistent again, but the golf course was tougher, the conditions harder. I have to stay consistent and keep rolling in some putts.”
Park knows very little about Lee.
“I know she’s from Korea and she played on the KLPGA Tour, and I know she’s hitting it quite long from seeing it from behind today,” Park said. “Except for that, I really don’t have much information. Obviously she played quite solid for three days.”
Lori Kane leads the Canadians carding 71 in the third round to sit tied for 43rd. Alena Sharp and and Rebecca Lee-Bentham shot 74 and 75 respectively to share 60th.